'People fled Darfur in fear'
Photo: Tsafrir Abayov
Netanyahu: Preserving Jewish character
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Many African refugees who risked their lives to flee their home states and make their way to Israel were saddened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intention to deport them and pay African countries millions to take them in.
"We appreciate the state, but we would prefer to die than be returned to Africa," says Ibrahim Saad al-Din, a refugee from Darfur who came to Israel in 2006.
"It's difficult to hear this proposal, because it's as though we're being sold. We were always in Africa, so why did we come now and not a decade ago? Because there is a problem and people flee due to fear, not economic troubles. The economic situation in Sudan is better than here, and most of us were well-off before the war."
'We'd rather die than be deported' (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
Netanyahu perceives the continued entry of migrant laborers from Africa to be a demographic threat to Israel, and has recently expressed strong criticism about the way the issue is currently being handled. For this reason he is investigating options which will "shake up" the state.
Some 1,200 migrants from Africa enter Israel each month, while only a minority is eligible for refugee status, security sources say.
But Ibrahim says there is nothing for him in Sudan. "I fled when they burned my village, and now it doesn't exist anymore, everyone ran away," he said, adding that he had only succeeded in contacting family members six years later.
In Israel, he found a new family. "I know a lot of people here. Israel is a country suitable for refugees, so we thought we'd find help here because the Jewish people are helpful," he said.
"How are we harming the state? We can help the state – we want to work and contribute. If they want to return us like this – it's like selling us, like human trafficking."
Ibrahim was granted a stay of six months, but his fears are far from allayed. "People without (refugee) status are even worse-off. The state needs to help them get by and remember that these are human beings," he said.
Israel-Egypt border. New barrier in works (Photo: Reuters)
'Sending them off to die'
Johans, a refugee from Ethiopia, was also alarmed. "You can't return people. They have been wanting to do this for a long time, and it is very dangerous – it will kill them. Two years ago refugees were deported to Eritrea from Yemen and no one knows what happened to them – they just disappeared. It's like sending them off to die," he said.
Human rights organizations also voiced concern over Netanyahu's plan. Ran Cohen, director of the Department for Migrants, Refugees and Undocumented People at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, says it was hypocritical.
"Netanyahu is planning to deport refugees to African countries after many years of selling weapons to African dictatorships. This idea places Netanyahu squarely within the category of the worst African dictators who point Israeli weapons at the heads of the refugees who come here," Cohen said.
He called on Israel to "deal in a humanitarian manner with asylum-seekers, on the basis of the UN treaty for protection of refugees, a treaty Israel initiated and signed after Jews all over the world were killed as a result of refugee-deportation policies".
"Netanyahu can purchase the deportation with money, but he cannot use money to clean the stain of shame that the very mention of this idea brings upon us."
The Hotline for Migrant Workers said Netanyahu should keep in mind that all countries must grant asylum to refugees. "A state established by refugees cannot turn its back on war victims who are seeking asylum," the hotline said in a statement.
In the meantime, the government is planning to erect a barrier on the Israel-Egypt border in order to more effectively keep infiltrators out. Netanyahu's office confirmed this, saying that the prime minister had spurred the construction.
The office also confirmed that Netanyahu had "ordered relevant government ministries to search for countries willing to absorb migrant workers who entered Israel illegally, part of a number of steps preventing Israel from being swamped with infiltrators and in order to preserve its Jewish and democratic character".
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